A Louisiana man who had his conviction overturned after spending 44 years in prison for a sex crime he did not commit is now suing the deputies and other officials he says framed him.
Vincent Simmons, 70, of Mansura, Louisiana, is still adjusting to modern life and technology like smartphones and smart televisions, all of which were nonexistent when he was locked up for allegedly raping two white teenage girls on May 9, 1977.
“I never encountered with these people, never,” exclaimed Simmons.
Simmons says in the 1970s the sentiments of Jim Crow era still dictated much of life in his hometown, which caused him several run-ins with police.
“It’s racist, so I had a record because my mom had to come and get me out of jail because I went into a white guy’s place because they said the Black people had to go through the back door,” Simmons recalled leading to one of his more memorable arrests as a juvenile when he refused to be treated as a second-class citizen.
On May 9, 1977, twin sisters Sharon and Karen Sanders were with their cousin, Keith Laborde, and that day Sharon allegedly was raped by a Black man they supposedly had given a ride before he produced a gun, but according to a lawsuit filed by Simmons, it was Laborde who allegedly raped his own cousin.
Simmons, who was well known by police due to his frequent run-ins as a juvenile, was the person framed for the alleged sex crime.
“How did they get to Vincent? They knew who Vincent was, they saw him on the street, they kidnapped him,” said Justin Bonus, Simmons’ attorney.
Bonus says the Laborde family was well connected in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, and they used their power and influence to frame Simmons.
“The main players are the Labordes, the main player Keith Laborde, the person who was thrown in the trunk allegedly, who we now know had sex with his cousin Karen, who admitted it on national television, John Laborde, Keith’s father, was the parish assessor, a very powerful person in the parish. The Laborde family period was a very powerful family,” Bonus said.
After being picked up by police, Simmons says police tried to coerce him into confessing for the rape and went as far as shooting him in at the police station, but Simmons remained steadfast in proclaiming his innocence.
“I died, they shot me in jail because I wouldn’t admit, I wouldn’t confess to a crime. They shot me and tried to kill me,” Simmons said.
The lawsuit alleges the twins were coached into accusing Simmons, and during the suspect lineup Simmons was made to appear guilty, as he was the only man brought in wearing handcuffs.
“Robert Laborde who they all claim isn’t related to Keith and John Laborde but we know is, was the person who shot Vincent in the chest. He arrested Vincent on site and then and when Vincent didn’t confess, he took part in the lineup as well,” Bonus said.
Simmons always maintained his innocence despite being charged with two aggravated rapes and on July 28, 1977, Simmons was sentenced to two consecutive 50-year terms in prison by a jury of eleven white men and a Black woman. Over the years, Simmons says he fought for his innocence by petitioning for his post-conviction but was denied more than a dozen times.
“He was fighting, he was fighting from the day they took him to Angola, he probably had the most post-conviction motions than anybody else I’ve seen,” Bonus said of Simmons’ relentless efforts to plead his innocence.
The tide started to shift in Simmons’ favor as details of the alleged rape became clearer once Keith Laborde, the cousin of the twin girls started talking more and the stories from the twins themselves proved to be inconsistent, furthermore, a medical exam proved Sharon Sanders was still a virgin despite claiming she was raped.
This exculpatory evidence was withheld from Simmons’ lawyers which proved to be a turning point in his case.
“The truth started coming out 28 years ago, when Vincent got his discovery,” Bonus said of the evidence that led to Simmons’ case getting a fresh look by the courts.
It still took nearly two decades until Simmons was able to get a court hearing to claim his innocence.
According to the lawsuit, Keith Laborde, admitted Simmons did not rape either of the sisters and, he had consensual sex with one of them and locked the other in the trunk. On Feb. 14, 2022, Judge Bill Bennett sided with Simmons and vacated his conviction. After his release from prison, Simmons says he could only thank God.
“I had faith in him,” Simmons said upon his release from prison after 44 years.
Months after his release, Simmons vows for some accountability and compensation for the years taken away from his life while behind bars.
He wants the Laborde family and the Avoyelles Parish officials — or their heirs in some instances — held accountable for the wrongful conviction. While Simmons’ lawsuit does not list a specific dollar amount at this time, he says he wants a hefty payout in damages.
“I want one billion [dollars],” Simmons said of his hopeful compensatory and punitive damages payout.
“He needs to be compensated, he needs to be taken care of, they destroyed his life, they took him away from his children, his children don’t know who he is because of that and not only that, but he was also branded as a rapist,” said Bonus.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment from Avoyelles Parish officials regarding the lawsuit but have not heard back at the time of this report.